You are the designers of the Russian exhibition at the Biennale, but you are also very well-known Moscow architects. To begin with, a question for the architects. Your projects include quite a few that are relatively literal, unambiguous in terms of image – exactly like Frank Gehry’s Binoculars Building. Take your fish house, for instance, or the interior for the Cocoon Club. So while most architects try to create maximally formless, abstract architecture, you produce this kind of ‘literalism’. What are the reasons for it? It is a deliberate attempt to shock?
Vladimir Kuz’min: My God, this is the first time for several years that I’ve been asked a question that I actually want to answer! Yes, of course, this is an absolutely deliberate policy. And you’ve already given the explanation for it yourself. The thing is that one of Vlad’s and my favourite architects is Frank Gehry. I think I won’t be exaggerating if I say he’s our polestar: we even study him as a special subject with our students at MARCHI. He essentially embodies what Vlad and I are trying to promote: the synthesis of modern architecture and modern art.
And what does modern art mean for you? And how can it be transformed into architecture? I find that very difficult to get my head around.
Vladislav Savinkin: For us modern art is, above all, ironic reflection on the most pressing problems of the current moment. For us it’s important that modern art uses the maximum number of artistic media – from collage to video – to express these thoughts. We in our turn want architecture to become one of these media, a kind of conductor for modern art. Roughly speaking, we are representatives of the design movement in modern art, along with people such as Donald Judd and Claus Oldenburg. The latter, incidentally, is a co-author of the Binoculars House.
V.K.: However, we take our bearings not only from the people just named. The list of those whom we regard as authorities contains a vast number of people connected with the Russian tradition, with folklore, and folk art. But folk art and modern art have a common trait. You called it ‘literalism’, and this, I think, is a very good definition. It is this ‘literalism’ that we find attractive. Our idea is to draw the attention of the general public to everyday, quotidian things which they have seen so much of that they no longer notice. This was where pop art began. People living in megalopolises see nothing – or wish to see nothing – except their own problems. Trees, fish, birds are for them empty sounds. And we want to get them to see these things.
By blowing up a fish to the size of a two-storey house?
V.K.: Precisely. When we confront someone with houses in the form of fish or snakes and, even more importantly, when we name these structures after their prototypes – ‘fish house’ or ‘snake house’ – we remind him or her that there are hundreds of pleasant small things apart from work; we for a second take him or her back to the world of childhood. We are trying to create a kind of sign system whereby the sign really does mean what it means – without any second, third, or fifth meanings. Our buildings have no subtexts. The way we see things, this kind of childish directness based on pure instinct and associated with the desire to touch and climb all over everything may serve as the basis for a concept of architectural space.
V.S.: So for us the artistic aspect of design takes priority. That is, in our work we manage to create an architectural environment, but at the same time the impulse for its creation comes from a system of artistic images partly borrowed from figurative art and partly from our own memories.
While we’re on the subject of the link between architecture and art… I know that at MARCHI [Moscow Architecture Institute] your teacher was the famous artist and designer Aleksandr Yermolaev. Did studying under him influence your creative development?
V.S.: He’s responsible for my being unable to marry…
V.K.: And in my case, it’s thanks to him that I married. And that was 15 years ago. I married a student of his. To be serious, though, we are obliged to Aleksandr Yermolaev for almost everything. We’ve adopted his creative method, his outlook on the world. He introduced us to contemporary art and to the work of people who have remained our guiding lights to this day.
V.S.: It is Aleksandr Yermolaev who has always supported us at difficult moments and found time to listen to our grievances. We are so used to following his opinion on everything that if we run into difficulty or suffer creative failure or crisis, we already know in advance what he would say on the subject. Regrettably, we see him only rarely these days.
V.K.: Another important point is that we now teach at Moscow Architecture Institute at the same faculty as Aleksandr Yermolaev. Which is to say, we were initially his novice pupils, but now we are his ideological associates and populizers of his ideas.
When studying your architecture, I discovered three utterly distinct aesthetic lines in your work. The first is a kind of early-Gehry-type Postmodernism. The second is kitsch à la Philippe Starck. And the third is Minimalism. Which do you regard as your main line?
V.K.: You’re correct to say our work contains several lines. Only instead of Starck I would name Sottsas. As for Minimalism, we were never interested in pure Minimalism. Some of our interiors may be laconic, but not to that extent.
V.S.: We never aimed to pick out for ourselves any one aesthetic line to follow unwaveringly.
In other words, you like being different.
V.S.: We like being as different as the world itself, as our clients. Clients, you see, also vary enormously. We like being as different as our students.
V.K.: The main thing Yermolaev taught us was not to get hung up on national characteristics but to respond to and love nature.
V.S.: Which is why we do nature sculptures such as our Nikola’s Ear installation for Archstoyanie.
While we’re on the subject of installations, it’s worth pointing out that you have quite a bit of experience in this field. Did this experience come in handy when you designed the exhibition for the Russian pavilion at the 2008 Biennale?
V.S.: We’ve been doing exhibition design since 1992. And if you were to count everything we’ve done in this field, I think you’d find there are more than 50 such installations. We were delighted that the curators of the Venice Biennale called upon our expertise. But we realize that here we are merely executors of the curators’ will; essentially, our job is technical realization of their ideas. At the same time, the curators listen to what we have to say: it’s by no means a one-sided process. For instance, initially we proposed four options which, even if they didn’t receive a standing ovation, nevertheless provoked intense discussion. The curators likewise made several curious proposals concerning not just the ideology behind the exhibition, but also details of the actual design.
V.S.: We make no claim to take the lead ideologically. Or rather, it’s not a matter of claims, but of an elementary lack of time. We are practising architects. As practising architects, we agree that there really is a problem with foreigners seizing control of our market. So we accept this ideology. And even more than this, we are keen to explore it, are eager to understand it and eager to match its standards.
V.K.: We realize only too well what part we are to play in this exhibition. We are the hands; the heads belong to other people. Our job is to execute the curators’ ideas.
V.S.: At the beginning of April we made a trip to Venice. When we got there, we simply walked through the Russian pavilion from room to room and literally started designing, together with the curators, as we walked. This feeling of teamwork is a good feeling. We have joint discussions, everyone gives each other advice, and at the same time each is a connoisseur of his own subject.
How do you think foreigners will receive the concept for the Russian pavilion? It’s a risky theme. A play on possession of the architectural market in Russia. Foreigners think they’re helping us here, teaching us good sense.
V.K.: Who’s helping whom is a good question. You think their motives for coming here are purely altruistic? They’re missionaries? They come here to earn money. And the sums involved are usually very large. They have very specific aims. So the ideology of our exhibition is spot on, as it turns out. Whatever anyone may say, it all amounts to a genuine battle for a market in sales. It’s a kind of crusade – only not a religious one or one that aims to bring new standards to Russian culture. Everything that we need we’ll take from them without any fuss. But for that there’s no need for them to come here. Whatever else, we live in an age of information. Here the only part of the crusade that’s survived is the idea of plentiful booty. So let each and everyone interpret the concept of our Russian pavilion as they wish. Some will see in it something positive – that we Russians are becoming Europeanized at least with regard to culture; others will agree that the influx of foreigners into Russia amounts to an occupation. As authors of the exhibition, it should really be a matter of indifference to us who sees what in it and whether foreigners like our concept or not. Indeed, the question of who this exhibition is aimed at has no clear answer. Who comes to the Biennale? Who is the most important figure in this game? To try to calculate in advance how someone – curators, foreign architects, the press, in the light of the present political situation – will evaluate the Russian pavilion is, in my opinion, a waste of time. What is the most important thing in this story? For the first time in many, many years, the Russian pavilion will feature not one or two architects, but more than thirty. For the first time the Russian pavilion will show not the activities of one person but the real state of things in our architecture. Everything that has occurred in the Russian pavilion until now has been more artistic gesture than a proper conversation about architecture. This in itself makes the exhibition worthy of interest.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
The Flying One
Expected to become an analogue of Moscow’s Skolkovo, the project of the High Park campus at Saint Petersburg’s ITMO University, designed by Studio 44, mesmerizes us with its sheer scale and the passion that the architects poured into it. Its core – the academic center – is interpreted as an avant-garde composition inspired by Piazza del Campo with a bell tower; the park is reminiscent of the “rays” of the main streets of Saint Petersburg, and, if watched from a birds-eye view, the whole complex looks like a motherboard with at least four processors on it. The design of the academic building even displays a few features of a sports arena. The project has a lot of meanings and allusions about it; all of them are united by plastique energy that the hadron collider itself could be jealous of.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.
In the Istra district of Moscow metropolitan area, the tandem of 4izmerenie and ARS-ST designed a sports complex – a monovolume that has the shape of a chamfered parallelepiped with a pointed “nose” like a ship’s bow.
Stairway to Heaven
The project of a hotel in the settlement of Yantarny is an example of a new recreational complex typology, and a new format that unites the hotel, the business, and the cultural functions. All of this is complemented by 100% integration with nature.
Cape of Good Hope
In this issue, we are showing all the seven projects that participated in a closed-door competition to create a concept for the headquarters of Gazprom Neft, as well as provide expert opinions on those projects.